As early as 1964, Eco had divided us between “apocalyptic” and “integrated” in the light of digital innovation

Umberto Eco, in his book Apocalyptic and integrated of 1964, was bounded through the lens of semiology the interpretation of the masses into modern communication tools and the encounter between some of them with innovation. The image he had cut out of it outlined a very ambiguous situation in the crowd: some were enthusiastic about it, others felt almost offended by this modernity. It is a rift that still exists today.

Apocalyptic and integrated was born as a collection of essays and articles published in 1964, around the theme of the modern tools of mass communication that emerged at that time. In fact, “the author [nel suo libro] he did not intend to say anything new, but to take stock of a now mature debate […]”, We read in the introduction to the book. The text is the consequence of Eco’s various passions – that of comics, of television as a new communication tool that gave access to different content – and of the research he carried out through a free course at the University of Turin, “Aesthetics and Mass Communication”, who had got a group of young people to meet in the evening in a sociological center separate from the university complex to talk about the narrative structures of the women’s magazines.

The stock seems to draw a clear line between the company, but that is not really the case. Apocalyptic and integrated it is chosen for editorial reasons to summarize the basic theme of many semiological reflections, but it is not a division, rather a categorization of attitudes to which the crowd can easily turn in relation to innovation. According to the author, the first way to approach the collective good of culture could be of an apocalyptic type: if culture until then was considered an exclusively aristocratic good, at that time there was talk for the first time about mass culture, which the apocalyptic apparently failed to vote for because it represented an unwanted creation and sharing of cultural content never seen before – we are talking to him about anti-culture, a symbol of the vulgarity of the masses. The reason for this expansion was due to today’s new means of communication: television, newspapers, radio, cinema, comics, popular novels and Reader’s Digest. The transgression that this part of the fair felt affected was unparalleled: innovation had contributed to the gift of a mostly aristocratic good with impunity, it had lowered the cultural canon “trivialization and commodity of it”, which had caused a decline in direction of cultural aberration.

The point of view of the integrated was totally opposite: if the apocalyptic in the news saw the threat, the ridicule of culture in a contemptible way, he grasped all its positive aspects: art became an object of admiration, like books, comics or films. , classical music was listened to by everyone and everyone could access the novel. Culture made the integrated for the first time actively participate in the news and the wealth that he could not take part in before, he welcomed every detail and was ecstatic. The matrix of origin of the new culture was not important – something that the apocalyptic tended to emphasize, referring to a place born from below and therefore a symbol of decadence. The integrated company appreciated it because it was a source of innovation and the expansion of borders that had hitherto been well-defined. Very often it was also born from above, in fact, just think of the first ads on the vacuum cleaner, an accessory that not everyone still owned in Italy in 1964. Those who took this position did not see in the new means of communication drawn on the decomposition of Modern society, but progress, the symbol of a revolution that valued them. The integrated, in particular, in this revolution, valued the homogenization of content, which helped to create an environment without social divides, strongly defended the new forms of culture transmitted through comics or telequizzes, as he affirmed that man always have loved Circenser and searched the fun also visually, therefore he did not consider their widespread spread deviant. “The apocalypse is the occupation of the dissenter, integration is the concrete reality for those who do not disagree”.

What has disturbed the minds of cultural aristocrats was the phenomenon that often occurs in history, that is, the masses enter culture as the protagonists of the associated life, co-responsible for public affairs. Their mission, as Eco says, was to impose their own ethos, to assert certain special needs in a given historical period, to put their own language into circulation, to develop proposals that could also come from below. THAT mass mediamoreover, they have created the real opportunity for education for the masses in areas of which they previously had no real knowledge, not because of a lack of them, but because of insufficient resources at their disposal.

The situation described by Umberto Eco in 1964 seems to have survived to this day, in a 2022 marked by the widespread and pervasive use of digital technology in all areas, including the cultural through the so-called Digital Humanities. This interdisciplinary knowledge, which goes across computer science and archiving, or digital and publishing or again technology and art, has its origins in 1949 thanks to Father Roberto Busa, who with the support of the founder of IBM, Thomas J. Watson Sr. decides to digitize the entire work of Thomas Aquina, L ‘Thomistic Index. From there, entire religious works and more were digitized to improve their preservation over time and to ensure less work and waste of hours for those who transcribed them by hand. In any humanistic field, the foundation for complete digitization began to be laid: from archives to philology, from art to books. This process continues to this day, and after the pandemic, it appears to have been further strengthened.

Not everyone reacted in the same way to this epoch-making change: even today we find the apocalyptic and the integrated. The apocalyptic of today’s society rejects in a detached way any kind of digital approach to the precious cultural heritage with which it is associated: the modern e-book reader with which you can read many books without taking up space and without the risk of usury over time and a greater waste of paper, it becomes the anti-book par excellence, the aberration that Gutenberg would have turned to in his grave after his colossal discovery of loose type; the art exhibitions, which are admired via smartphone or tablet, are transformed into the tangible sign of a final apocalypse for an art history that has always been closely admired for centuries and which now finds itself deprived of being an artistic asset and a cultural heritage displayed on in line with advertising for a dress on our devices.

These are just examples where contemporary apocalyptic categorically rejects the digital. The integrated instead appreciates each page that can be positive. In the apocalyptic position, we notice a behavior characterized by a complete rejection, which completely denies any benefit that comes from innovation, in this case digital, without considering it a real benefit.

Umberto Eco had already in 1964 outlined and foreseen the different attitudes that society may have in light of the revolutionary extent of the very rapid innovation we are experiencing; the apocalyptic and the integrated are still there, although the means of communication have evolved further and require a further development of this reflection, enriching it with data and experiences that were once unthinkable for most.

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